Religious intolerance

By | 2012/08/05

“Those who injure the souls of believers with scorn and derision must be put in their place and in some cases also punished,” said Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick on Wednesday.

Bishop calls for blasphemy laws“, The Local.

The notion of blasphemy is both one of the most ridiculous, and simultaneously, the most dangerous ideas you can get. It seeks to subtly impose a religion on all others by making it illegal for others to criticise it, publicly, or in any way that might result in a religious person finding the comment offensive. And let’s face it, there’s some pretty prickly religious people out there are the far right of the equation who find anything offensive – e.g., Spongebob, and Bert and Ernie.

Equally, in any modern democracy there’s no legal need for blasphemy laws. Standard laws relating to libel, defamation, incitement of hatred or incitement of violence should cover any egregious wrong-doing on that front. If this isn’t enough, then why would religious thoughts be singled out as requiring or deserving special attention? Why not have the equivalent to blasphemy laws enacted to protect criticism of scientific theories?

An idea that is capable of being proven, and worthy of pursuit should both be subject to and capable of withstanding criticism without special protection. If you’re going to protect ideas, you need to protect ideas that can be proven, otherwise you’ll just end up in a quagmire. “There are reported to be approximately 38000 denominations” of christian sects alone in the world. Think about that for a moment: Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Westboro Baptists, and so on, and so forth. Each of them insisting theirs is the one true faith, the one true message. Then after that you’ve got all the other religions in the world, most of whom also insist theirs is the one true faith.

Many christian sects insist non-believers go to hell. That’s not reserved just for people who don’t believe at all, but for people who believe in the same god, but not the right way – i.e., as a member of another sect. Now, if a believer tells me that I’m going to go to hell for being an atheist, I’ll laugh it off. It’s an utterly meaningless assertion to level at me, and would be about as meaningful or as terrifying as “you’ll croob! You’ll croob in beruda!

Yet, if I imagine myself a member of a christian sect, I’d imagine my ‘soul’ might feel quite injured by having a member of another christian sect telling me I was going to go to hell for not believing properly. That would be quite a hateful assertion.

Would blasphemy laws protect the religious from themselves?

There’s a broader concern with blasphemy laws though: how they’d be used to push the religious intolerance envelope further. That is, the intolerance people show towards others in society, using religion as their shield. Think of people who picket abortion clinics, who door knock to proselytise and pamphlet-drop. Do they need protection? They’ve already shown a high degree of intolerance to others – just imagine what they could do with a law that allows them to claim that the actions or speech of another injured their ‘soul’. Would telling a door knocker to piss off suddenly put you up on blasphemy charges? Look at the history of churches in showing a complete intolerance towards general law: shielding paedophiles being the most notable example. If religion shows such disrespect towards obeying laws, how much respect are they going to show to a tempered use of a law that works in their favour? Consider how quickly religions demandexemption from discrimination laws and you’ll see just how misused a blasphemy law could be.

If you don’t think that’s realistic, take a sneak peek at Pakistan, which does have blasphemy laws. People arrested on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan have literally been dragged from police stations and beaten to death by mobs of hateful individuals.

How much protection did the religious really need in those situations?

Blasphemy – it’s a terrifyingly concept to hear bandied about.